Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Thoughts about Gender Equality

My posting on Father’s Day was partly about gender equality, and now I want to share some more thoughts on that important subject. When I wrote ten days ago, I talked about how the emphasis on gender equality has taken a lot of pressure off fathers. It has also, thankfully, made it possible for some fathers to spend more time with their children. But perhaps for other fathers it has increased stress because of added child care and housekeeping expectations.
I appreciate the comments which Thinking Friend Susan Miller posted regarding my June 20 piece about fathers. She wrote that when she was at home her mother always made more money than her father. Susan continues, “She was a teacher, my father a preacher (mostly in small country churches). It was never an issue in our house. My dad was also the main caregiver because he was able to stay home with us when we were sick and run us to and from practices. Again, it never occurred to us that this was unusual. So I thank both my father and mother for not raising my brothers and me in a home of stereotypical expectations. I think we are all better parents because of it.”
Although there is some remaining societal stigma, some fathers are satisfied to work only part time, or even to be “househusbands,” in order to spent more quality time with their children. I think this is commendable. For some men with a full-time job, though, there is now more stress because of the expectation that they spend more time in childcare and in doing housework than traditionally done. Thus, “Now, Dad Feels as Stressed as Mom” was the title of a June 18 article in The New York Times.
In a lighter vein, I used to say that there would never be full gender equality until women were willing to carry things in pockets like men (wisely) do. While I still think that is true, perhaps it is also true that gender equality also depends to a degree on men being willing to carry, as I have for years as it is a long-standing custom in Japan, what I have recently learned is now sometimes called a murse (a male purse) or a manbag, although messenger bag is probably a more popular term.
One of the chapters in Manhood for Amateurs (2009) by Michael Chabon is entitled “I Feel Good About My Murse.” He closes by explaining that his murse “holds my essential stuff, including a book—for true contentment, one must carry a book at all times, and great books so rarely fit, my friends, into one’s pocket—but no more, and so I can wear it, and my masculinity, and my contempt for those who might mock or misunderstand me, very lightly indeed” (p. 157). My sentiments, too.


Happy Birthday to June, my lovely wife who was born on this day in 1937. The picture is one I took this morning. (She doesn’t look like she is going to need a gravestone soon, does she?!)


  1. Happy Birthday!!
    Get the stone when you want, but looks like a piece of pie would be fitting for now.

  2. One thing I have learned about gender equality is that talking the talk is a lot easier than walking the walk. Those glass ceilings have a way of cropping up in the most inconvenient places.We have never had a woman as President of the United States. We have never had a woman as pastor of Second Baptist Church. And my wife has ways of telling me when she runs into a glass ceiling in our marriage.

    One of the places we must go is back to Genesis 3, to re-envision the garden. How many have read "because you have listened to the voice of your wife" to mean that a real man does not listen? Well, I can remember times I got in trouble as a boy for riding my bicycle or visiting my friends. That does not mean it is wrong to ride a bicycle or visit a friend. It was the context that got me in trouble. As it was the context that got Adam in trouble. He was not using sound judgment.

    Even more to the point, he was involved in an experience of such existential depth that it is no wonder ancient theologians called it "original sin." This is the story of a boy and girl becoming a man and a woman. This is the story of a transformation so radical it changed even their relationship to God. This is a story so deep that there is no way out. Homosexuality is just a variation on the theme. You still have to become a man or a woman. Celibacy so lives in the shadow of this transformation that it is more defined by what it is not than by what it is. Unless we are to live in the tragedy of unending childhood, somehow we have to become adults.

    Adam would have been just a wrong to silence Eve, as to unthinkingly listen to her. What we are striving to find with "gender equality" is that dialog and partnership that brings true peace and success to families, churches and societies. Genesis 3 gives us a snapshot, not an answer. Thousands of years later, we are still working on the details.

    Biology has not given us precise equivalence, far from it. Yet how we process that difference is not totally determined by the difference. One thing is clear, however. Eve did not sin first. They were both there. Read the story again, remembering the literal ending in Genesis 4. They had a baby! So another way of looking at Genesis 3 is as the world's first failed abstinence only training. Adam let his serpent do the talking, and before Eve knew it, that old serpent was as worthless as a snake in the grass! The Bible is far too wise to give us simple answers. The questions are what count. Starting with, "Where are you?"

  3. I had to laugh out loud at Craig's Freudian innuendos in his reading of Genesis 3 (or was that only in my mind--yikes!). It did make me wonder whether gender equality is not somehow too anachronistic a term to be particularly helpful. Clearly the couple in the garden are equal in some sense: they are made of the same stuff (for out of man this one was taken). On the other hand, they are quite different. Most obviously, the woman it is who realizes the fruit is desirable for wisdom's sake; the man is off tilling the ground, foreshadowing Sirach's dictum, "How can one become wise who handles the plow, and who glories in the shaft of a goad...?"

    I wonder whether we might benefit by setting aside the loaded language of equality (loaded by our contemporary context more than the Bible's perhaps?) and substituting the notion of symbiosis: gender symbiosis. Each needs the other to live; each keeps the other going in order to thrive him/herself. In fact, I suspect that mutual and commensurate good for each member of the symbiosis is what is intended more than equality.